This is the midweek edition of Culture Study — the newsletter from Anne Helen Petersen, which you can read about here. If you like it and want more like it in your inbox, consider subscribing. Right now, there are 126 unread text messages on my phone. Some people see that number and gasp, but others, they know. Those messages aren’t the result of muted text threads or ignored ex-boyfriends. A few are appointment reminders (from my dentist, from the hairdresser). The rest are all business.
I'm one of those annoying people for whom email inboxes exist as to-do lists. (I currently have 4—read!—emails in my personal inbox, awaiting my work on them; 3 are in my work inbox.) I reply STOP to all marketing texts as soon as they start. I delete the 6-digit code texts after they have been used. I need my inboxes and my text inboxes clean and uncluttered so that I can attempt to keep my anxiety at a manageable level. So the thing I want most out of iMessage is the ability to MARK A MESSAGE AS UNREAD. Since I can't archive texts the way I can email, I lose too many threads downstream as the day unfolds and messages I read on my way into class that need responses get lost. This function cannot be hard to add, and I cannot figure out why it doesn't yet exist. tl;dr: My kingdom for an "mark as unread" text message option.
This is what Google Voice numbers are for. No one gets my phone number. It’s on Do Not Disturb 100% of the time.
My phone is for my convenience. And no one else’s.
I work in email and SMS marketing, and this is spot-on. Legally, you must have an unsubscribe button -- that works! -- somewhere in all emails, and have the STOP/etc. option in texts. But there are ways to get around them. Like, how many emails have you seen where the unsubscribe button is in teeny-tiny text at the very bottom of the email, and in a color that's about two shades off from the background? Or an SMS brand contact you opted-out of months ago that still retains your info and texts you 3 or 6 or 9 months later? No matter how much you hear about fancy "segmentation" or "targeting" or whatever, email and text marketing are shot-in-the-dark messes that rely on sending to as many people as possible in the knowledge/hope that somebody somewhere will take you up on buying a medium cheese pizza, nine placemats, and a cable tv subscription for $9. It is an industry that drains the soul.
I have an entire separate email address for spam emails, and I love it. Anytime a company wants my email address, I don’t hesitate a second to give it to them. I probably get 200 emails a day to that address, some of them from companies I’ve never heard of who have obviously bought my emails address somewhere else…but the few companies who have gotten my phone number for texting have all ultimately been removed. More and more I notice companies promising a coupon in exchange for texting privileges, and every time I ask myself if that invasion is worth what ends up being a $5 discount…and it never is.
This post was kinda timley, I'm currently listneing to Cal Newport's "A World Without Email"--and I'm flabbergasted (yes, flabbergasted!) about how he blames so much of the problems of work on "email" and that it's making us so less "productive". The only way to fix it is to get rid of email for things like Trello boards. What's that sound, oh, it's my eyes rolling to the techno-deterministic approach.
I'm about 2/3 through and nothing in the book actually challenges the actual demands of work nor acknowledges how much more productive employees have come (nor compensated for how much more productive they are). And your post reminds me that, even if email goes away, the idea that work would not be constantly hounding us during and after work hours is a pipe-dream in this current rendering of capitalism where all spaces are opportunities for profit.
I have a google voice number, and opt out and don’t opt in, and I will sometimes combine my work and personal cell numbers to a new made up number. As a comms person who works in campaigns and advocacy, texting is an important tool for us to reach supporters and voters. Since I’ve been the person on the end of the “I think this is a robot text,” please remember that we are human too and stop is sufficient. You don’t have to call me a c**t or tell me to eff off as well.
Maybe not directly related, but I volunteered for multiple progressive campaigns in my area in the last couple of years, and texting has become a huge boon for them as well, especially during pandemic times. As a volunteer, I actually prefer it to calling, because not only are you more likely to get to engage with someone, but you can have real, potentially meaningful conversations with them too. While the intro text is most likely a copy/ paste situation, the follow ups were always a conversation with a human (at least for the campaigns for which I volunteered). In one case, I had a regular weekly volunteer slot with a statewide candidate over Zoom where he would answer questions live or just directly call the person who was asking them. (I realize he is unique, though.) I kind of loved campaign texting. It was at least a semi-replacement for canvassing, which is my preferred method when it's possible.
But then, on the flip side, we got my oldest son his first phone a couple of months... and there was immediately a cascade of texts from Donald Trump Jr., etc. and despite increasingly colorful ways of my son saying "STOP", it simply never does.
Last night I made the decision that 15% off was not worth it to get texts from Fenty Beauty. They were sneaky about it though, and made it seem like you had to sign up for both text and email to get that $4 off night cream. Nope, just email. They want our text info, bad.
(Nothing against Rihanna or FB; I adore the products!).
It’s weird how quickly all tech goes from novel fun thing that makes our lives better to horrible drain on the psyche.
Just another reason for me to continue not to have a cell phone, even though I'm one of the last people in the United States under 90 not to have one. It's bad enough the way email has become a mess because of spamming. Email used to be a really great way to have that kitchen table feel. I'm not convinced texting will ever have that feel—for me, at least. Seems too similar to Twitter and Facebook comments, where people say something that has about 0.2 seconds of staying power and gets lost in the shuffle. But I'm probably more cynical than the average.
I've managed the annoyance and predation of this by allowing really limited access of texts by anything other than humans (example: the utility company that texted me last night about a power outage.) I also find it helpful to have entirely separate email accounts for friends/family, work, and what I officially term the "junk" account (sales, what's new this month, subscription reminders, etc.)
If we don't actively manage our private spaces, they'll BE managed, sadly.
I type stop in response to every text I get that’s not from a real person with whom I want or need to communicate or an institution that is intimately part of my life (e.g. doctors, my kids’ school snow day alerts). Given that this is the one place where it’s easy to opt out, it seems like a choice to let brands take over.
Interesting. I always uncheck the "allow text updates" box whenever I'm placing an order or otherwise entering personal information anywhere online, and if I _do_ get a random text message about a delivery or something, I immediately block the number it came from and delete it, so I have only gotten a handful here and there. Emails, if they're junk, I can ignore and delete them (I have a specific email address I use for all online purchases and the like, and not much else, so that email box is mostly either receipts/confirmations or obvious junk/marketing I delete every day without opening), and my other email addresses are only used for correspondence or "business" (rent payments, banking, work info, &c.) so neither one gets much spam to speak of.
Interesting! I haven't really experienced this (yet?), but I think that's because I'm still on a cell plan where I get charged for texts, I tend to be rather protective of my text inbox. (The savings of the plan are definitely worth the "inconvenience" of having to monitor my text usage - I get phones for my whole family for less than most of my friends spend on one line.)
Fun fact about the VT billboard thing (which I love) in Burlington and a few other places chase has gotten moving billboards and there's a whole question of it violates the ban. Which reminds me I need to contact my rep about it.
Perfect guidance for what to do now. I've noticed more and more these texts from companies. Not worth the 10% I saved, and really, how many water bottles does a person need?!
I do get some texts from brands, so far not so many that they distress me. But more annoying - and more unavoidable - are the two-step verification texts. The worst of all is the one to sign into my employer's network when working at home, they never text from the same phone number, so my text feeds is full of random phone numbers that I will never/CAN never text back.